Newtown High School’s boys’ soccer team blanked visiting New Britain 2-0 in the first round of the Class LL State Tournament at Blue & Gold Stadium on November 5 to earn a spot in the November 7 second-round clash with Staples of Westport (6 pm at Blue & Gold Stadium).
The Nighthawks, seeded seventh in the bracket, unleashed 16 shots toward the No. 26 Golden Hurricane’s net, and got goals from Matt Mossbarger and Clay Gattey to move on. Mossbarger’s was a first-half net-finder on a free kick from about 25 yards out. Gattey’s, a left-footed blast from the top of the 18-yard box that went just under the crossbar, came late in the second half and was set up by Brenton Scott’s cross-field free kick from the left side which glanced off a defender. Gattey picked up the loose ball, took a stride toward the middle and effectively put the game out of reach with 9:15 to go with his insurance tally.
The win came in Newtown’s first game since a tough upset loss to Brookfield in the South-West Conference championship on October 30, a game that was scoreless through 100 minutes of regulation and overtime before being decided in two rounds of penalty kicks, only after Newtown dominated in ball control for most of the night.
“It’s a great feeling to come back from that,” Gattey said. “It’s awesome. It’s only going to get harder from here.”
Staples is the tourney’s No. 10 seed. The winner of the second-round clash earns a quarterfinal-round date with either No. 2 Xavier of Middletown or No. 15 Newington, on Saturday, November 9.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Newtown Coach Brian Neumeyer anticipated of the Staples match. The coach told his players after the opening-round win that he expected his team to continue to score, and that if it does find the net a couple of times in each game that the wins are likely to continue to come.
“We’re not going to score five or six goals but it’s the team that scores multiple goals, or gets a goal, that’s going to win,” the coach said of playoff soccer.
The Nighthawks did score five or six times in a handful of regular-season games, but in the postseason the competition is tougher, and the games are more defensive-minded on the whole.
Newtown blew out Brookfield 4-0 during the regular season before the Bobcats changed their style of play, went into defensive mode, and essentially forced the game-deciding PKs in their conference tourney tilt.
“They deserved better in that final,” Neumeyer said of his players. “I thought we were the better team.”
The coach added that he likes his chances for success in states given, in part, that opposing teams aren’t familiar with his Nighthawks and their offensive capabilities and, thus, might not have the same respect Brookfield gained and gave to the Hawks. Neumeyer expects the Hawks, however far they go in the bracket, to get some good looks created by more space in a less tightly-played game than that Brookfield rematch. That said, he didn’t expect the Staples contest to be an easy one.
Newtown faced Staples in the preseason and the teams played to a scoreless tie. Neumeyer was pleased with how his Hawks fared in that game, and knows his squad has greatly improved since then. Staples likely has, too, the coach acknowledges. “We’re a completely different team and so are they,” he told the players after the win over New Britain.
Mossbarger said he thought the opening-round win would put his team on the right track to keep on rolling through the state tournament. But, no matter what of the outcome in the second round — and regardless of when the season does come to an end — he’ll be able to look back on the campaign with fond memories.
“Overall, I had a really good time. I’m proud of these guys — they’re family. Win or lose, I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life,” Mossbarger said.